The Games We Played

As a teacher, I supervised playgrounds teeming with children in need of a break who preferred throwing snowballs to building snowmen, chased one another for no discernible reason, and tattled. I applauded antics on the jungle gym, refereed battles caused by too many swingers with too few swings and thoughtfully examined scratches, scrapes and new shoes. Also, in quiet moments, I thought about the games of my childhood.

I remember grabbing a side bar on a merry-go-round, then running and running and running before jumping aboard for a ride as the other passengers cheered the outstanding spin I’d provided. My friends and I took turns pushing, riding on and falling off the merry-go-round, never questioning the sanity of losing our grip, flying off the whirling platform — our bodies hop-scotching across the gravelled yard —and climbing back on for another ride.

We also survived teeter-totters. When older folks suddenly look terrified, they are reliving the moment when their classmate jumped off the low end of a teeter-totter while they soared on high, causing them to plummet to a bone-jarring, spine-collapsing, teeth-crunching stop.

Sometimes the metal slide claimed us. Twelve-feet high with skimpy three-inch sides, it dropped straight to the depression our skidding feet dug out of the gravel. We fought for position on its stairs then descended head first, sideways, on our bellies, or flat on our backs with our legs and arms held aloft like dead bugs. Sometimes, we propelled our bodies as fast as possible without braking or lowering our feet to land, so we could fly through the air in an effort to capture the flight record before we thudded down. And sometimes, after a particularly bloody landing, we descended properly.

We played unsupervised games of dodge ball in a circle scuffed in the dirt with the heels of our shoes. Having lived with easily irritated siblings, I knew how to dodge to avoid being hit, so I liked ducking, leaping and dashing about. On occasion, a hard-thrown ball broke a classmate’s glasses or knocked the breath out of someone, and our teachers would forbid dodge ball at recess. But they usually forgot.

To play red rover, we stood in a horizontal line facing another team, our arms linked tightly, and chanted, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Bruce right over,” which sent the classmate we called for running as hard and fast as he could to break through our line. Mayhem sometimes resulted: bruises, claims of broken limbs and heaped bodies pummeling one another.

I didn’t realize the Lake Shore version of mother-may-I differed from that played elsewhere until I participated in a game at my cousin’s birthday party in Provo. During play, I saw an opportunity and charged the girl who played mother without her permission, knocked her to the ground and leaped up to shocked silence and horrified faces rather than the cheers I would have heard at home.

Aunt Mary listened to my tearful explanation then told me sneaking up on a defenseless mother standing with her back to you and decking her was a Lake Shore adaptation. In the civilized world, a tap on the shoulder sufficed.

Though my friends and I survived the havoc of our play, when I remember the chipped teeth, embedded gravel, scraped knees and bloody noses that littered our lives, I understand why soft chips are now spread below equipment designed for safety.

But as I walk by Sunset Elementary, I also notice that children still run, scream, argue and find creative ways to get hurt at recess.

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54 thoughts on “The Games We Played

  1. Your posts always make me feel so grateful that I grew up when I did.
    Amazingly enough, we all survived the rough and tumble childhoods we were fortunate enough to experience.
    Once again, thanks for a lovely stroll down memory lane.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I think of my childhood, the word “fun” seems to capture it for the most part. My mother once wrote that Lake Shore was a great place to raise her children because we had room to ramble and a school that set common-sense limits. Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. I’ll visit you soon.

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  2. Aunt Beulah, I love to visit with you. You give me this warm feeling of being with someone who is so wise, and I know that I could ask you questions which you’d answer in a way that I totally ‘got it’ – whatever ‘it’ was.

    Love you to pieces. ~ Cobs. x 🌷 🌷 🌷

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  3. You have so vividly reminded me how The Playground is a world all of its own, with its own set of rules and protocols! It was a fantastically exciting yet terrifying place for me as a child. My younger sister was King of the Playground, so I was mostly tolerated on her account, but still, it was a trial.

    As a young parent, it was difficult to watch my toddlers navigate the sand and slide without too much interference from me … again, an exciting and terrifying time!

    Playgrounds … definitely not for the faint-hearted!

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    • Your last sentence is so true. I was more like your younger sister when young, but when I turned into a teenager I became more unsure of myself and tentative. And, from spending a lot of time at playgrounds with my grandchildren, I know what you mean about the difficulty of deciding when to interfere and when to let them fend for themselves. It’s always so good to hear from you.

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  4. Never had a pair of knees without scabs as a child! And we walked some way to the playground by ourselves – no supervision. Although as I remember there was a Park Keeper who had a raincoat and a whistle and was mostly respected.

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    • What a fun comment this is. I, too, had constantly scabbed knees and still have a couple of scars to prove it. And every adult I’ve ever known who had to supervise a playground was “mostly respected.”

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    • Now that you mention it, I’m not certain we ever completed a game of Red Rover either. Maybe recess ended before we had time or someone got hurt so we had to take them to the office. I agree that all the protections, rules and adult-supervised and coached games have made children more docile and dependent on parental approval than we were.

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  5. Janet, there must have been differences between small distances because, in Denver, there was not any Mother-May-I or Lake Shore. There was Simon Says.

    The big attraction for the girls at my elementary school was the rings. I came home with gigantic water blisters on my palms and fingers.

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  6. Horror of horrors – I didn’t get an email for this 😦 I saw it on Facebook and came looking for it.

    I remember the merry-go-round and one of my oldest cousins who we would beg to spin us so hard we thought we would fly beyond the worn path. He made the little kids sit inside, and I was so happy when I graduated to the outer rim.

    I hope children will always find ways to get hurt but survive with no permanent damage. That’s such an important life lesson.

    Thanks for a wonderfully nostalgic view of the playground, Janet – this was so much fun to read.

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  7. Such a great description of those days. And so accurate, even the admiring of a kid’s shoes. I used to be a school secretary, so much of this resonated with me. I could feel that landing on the teeter-totter. I think my teeth hurt when I read that. 🙂

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  8. It’s lovely to get an angle on childhood games from someone else’s viewpoint. Your ‘teeter-totter’ was our ‘see-saw’. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a see-saw but did have a swing that I shared with my (much older) sister. She used to go so high on it that I was terrified she’d fly off and end up somewhere over the tallest Horse Chestnut tree! Myself, I was a timid child, and was often ill, and so I was always very careful. As for the slide… there was one where we went on holiday that I was too scared to go on properly, so what I’d do (I was very little then, probably about four yrs old) was climb onto the end of it, climb – with difficulty – up about a foot or two of it, carefully turn myself round and slide down that small bit! Later, I used a rubber sheet on a slope at the back of our garden (yard), and used that as my own slide.

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    • I, too feared for siblings who seemed to go too high on the tire swing we had at home, but I was afraid they’d fly off over the tallest cottonwood tree. I often see small children repeating your trick on slides, feeling safer when they crawl up a few feet from the bottom. It makes perfect sense to me. And finally, I love the image of you at the back of your yard sliding on a rubber sheet; it makes me smile.

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  9. I broke my nose playing Red Rover on a long forgotten cousins birthday- there was a lot of blood. Thank you for the memory of scars and scabs, our playground was paved after Dawn Doucette cracked her head off the swings, from sand to cement..I was the one curled up at recess, out of the weather with a book. Later, jumping off the galloping pony was held in high regard.

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    • So you, too, know the thrills and dangers of Red Rover, which is no longer allowed on school playgrounds in the U.S. I wonder that no one questioned the “safety” of cementing a sand playground. Perhaps the president of the school board had a cement business. A few years ago, a cousin at a family reunion asked me if I remembered jumping out of one of our cottonwood trees onto the back of our horse who had wandered beneath it. I wonder where that Janet went. It’s hard for me to believe I every had enough physical courage to do such a thing.

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    • it was fun. Even having bruises, scrapes and scabs turned into a good thing because everyone admired them as they healed, almost as if they were a red badge of courage. Good memories are fine entertainment when you are older, Jeffrey, so hang on to them. The dialogue in mother-may-I was important. To get the full impact of the game, you might want to Google it.

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  10. Maybe the best desription of recess, I have ever heard. I played all of those games too and with the same results-though I must say, with a smile, we played the civilized version of “Mother, May I” I grew up with older boy cousins-and the purpose of dodge ball, seemed to be to eliminate players! Haha! This post was delightful and a lot of fun! thank you, love Michele

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  11. Love this post, Janet. I remember all the games you describe. Though they could be a little risky, for the most part no one was seriously injured. Now, I feel a little sorry that kids are so protected they’ve taken the fun out of recess. By the way, I loved tetherball, too. I believe that one is off limits most places. Thanks for posting this. It brings back very good memories. Well done.

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  12. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and the memories it brought back to you. Tetherball went away shortly after merry-go-round and better-totters did. My playground didn’t have tetherball, but my younger brother’s did. He played it so much he developed a thick callus all along the side of his hitting hand. i think he dreamed about it!

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  13. Your post took me back to my old elementary school playground, where all the playground equipment was on asphalt! Can you even imagine that today? I fell one time when hanging upside down on the jungle gym—got a nasty bump on my head and a split lip. And I’m still here.
    Although playgrounds are “safer” now and more supervised, when I volunteered with the 2nd grade class here in Price I was happy to see the kids still running, jumping and climbing at recess. I wonder if today’s kids will have the same fond memories of recess that we all do?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Asphalt is a menace and more than one school playground had it. You ask a good question about kids today and their memories of recess. I don’t know the answer, but I’ll research it by asking my oldest grandchildren what they remember about it.

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